Officer Haunted By Robert Pickton Report:

'I Just Wanted To Do Justice'

BY LINDSAY KINES, POSTMEDIA NEWS

Presented Here By

Bonnie M. Wells

VICTORIA It began like any other case. Doug LePard had no idea in 2002 that his review of the Vancouver police's missing women investigation would come to haunt him like it does now, or that he would one day join in the call for a public inquiry.

Back then, it was just another assignment for the Vancouver police officer who is now deputy chief. Robert Pickton had been arrested for the murders of women at his farm in Port Coquitlam, B.C., a few months earlier, and then-Vancouver police chief Jamie Graham wanted someone to review the department's handling of the file.

LePard seemed a logical choice. He was a seasoned investigator and the inspector in charge of research, with no prior involvement in the case.

"When I started, I approached it like any other of the hundreds and hundreds of investigations that I have done: Keep an open mind. Follow the evidence no matter where it leads. Find the truth. And I didn't know what that was," LePard said.

Now, eight years, 20,000 pages of documents, and dozens of interviews later, the 49-year-old has become a fervent advocate for an independent look at why the police failed to catch Pickton sooner. The B.C. government is expected to order some type of review Wednesday and LePard hopes it will drive changes to reduce the risk of a similar tragedy in the future.

"More needs to be done," he said, "and I think that government has to be on board."

Early in his research, the 29-year veteran of the Vancouver police found that Pickton could have been caught far sooner, and the deaths of at least 13 women prevented.

"I knew it was going to be shocking and that it was going to upset a lot of people," he said. "And really, I've had a sense of dread about that since I started writing this report."

LePard also knew that he would face a backlash for criticizing the RCMP, as well as his own department, particularly senior managers many of whom had supported his career.

"I always felt like this somehow, in a way that I couldn't articulate, was going to be career-ending or at least career-changing," he said.

But LePard said he tried never to lose sight of those 13 women or what they went through in their final hours.

"I just wanted to do justice to the story," he said. "It was just such an important story. I knew that above all else above any other investigation I'd ever done the ramifications for getting this right were so important.

"The public and the families and our own organization . . . deserve to know the truth."

The result was a 408-page report, released last month, that laid bare many of the Vancouver police and RCMP mistakes that allowed Pickton to go on killing for so long. It's painful reading, particularly because investigators had so much information pointing at Pickton by the late summer of 1999, and then turned away, allowing him to go on killing women for another 2 1/2 years.

LePard says he will be haunted for the rest of his life by how close police came to ending the slaughter sooner.

"I still, every day, think if only fresh eyes had been brought to the case at the time if the right pieces had been put together you know maybe this case would have been solved years earlier, and lives would have been saved.

"It's one of those things that you just can't undo, but you wish you could."

Pickton, a former pig farmer, was charged with murdering 26 women, and convicted on six of those counts in 2007.

The DNA of 33 women, mostly sex workers and drug addicted from Vancouver's drug- and violence-plagued Downtown Eastside.

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